Daniel Chigunwe Herald Correspondent
Mashonaland Central’s largest tobacco and peas exporter, Forrester Estate is reeling from the effects of an ongoing workers’ strike that has seen more than 3000 farm workers downing tools for the past two weeks demanding US$ wages.
The strike which was called by the workers’ committee comes at a time when the estate has hectares of export peas worth thousands of dollars awaiting harvest in the field.
Efforts by the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare officials, National Employment Council (NEC) and police in the past weeks have failed to yield a way forward with the local legislator Cde Campion Mugweni calling for an in-house negotiation between the management and employees so that production is not crippled.
“I understand that several farm workers around Mvurwi are currently protesting against wages in RTGS due to the arbitrary parallel market rates by money changers who are ripping off tobacco farmers during this selling season.
“It is indeed a worrying situation that calls for both employees and management to come with modalities that will not see the country losing crops that earn us the much-needed forex when our economy is registering gradual growth,” said Cde Mugweni.
Several farm workers in the tobacco farming area of Mvurwi have engaged in strikes including Gurungwe, Birthday and California with Forrester Estate feeling much of the gruelling effects.
“Currently the estate has a large hectarage of peas worth lots of dollars and this strike is crippling that production meaning we need a fifty-fifty resolution to these pressing issues hence whilst we are waiting for Government modalities to review farm workers’ wages, I need to encourage management to come up with incentives and cushioning benefits to assist its employees so that production does not stop, currently this deadlock will hurt our economy,” he said.
Mugweni further said he will render assistance to 600 pupils in Forrester Estate by paying for their tuition fees this term as a cushioning benefit to striking workers.
Meanwhile, the General Agriculture Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ) general secretary Mr Austin Muswere reiterated the need for an in-house negotiation as the only way to end the ongoing strike.
“The honest opinion is that for the strike and grievances on the ground to be resolved workers are agitating for an in-house negotiation between the workers and the management at the works council level on the demand that they have.
“Their demands are simple, they understand the situation that the company is in regarding financial challenges and problems but at the same time they are calling for a blended wage where part of the salary is paid in US$s whilst the other remaining component will be paid in RTGS based on whatever component that they would have agreed upon at works council level,” said Muswere.